Three of more than 10 students of an Islamic seminary in Unnao – attacked by four Hindu men while playing cricket – and their principal have contradicted the state police, who quoted eyewitnesses to deny the students were forced to shout Jai Shri Ram.
“The issue of raising slogans [Jai Shri Ram] did not come to light,” a police statement issued during a press conference by senior state officials in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow had said on July 13, two days after the attack – our original report with the police denial is here – which has not been disputed, with students injured and two attackers arrested.
The attack on the afternoon of July 11, came to public attention when a video of a madrasa student, narrating what happened went viral. The video was sent for so-called forensic investigation.
The student in the video, Mohammad Haroon, 14, whose hand was injured, told FactChecker, three days after the police statement, they were “brutally attacked” when they refused to chant Jai Shri Ram.
“They even hurled abuses, like katua, mulla [derogatory terms] and more, at us,” said Haroon, whose version was supported by other students.
“We were playing cricket and then four young men came on two motorcycles,” said Abdul Waris, 20. “They first abused us and then they beat us when we refused to chant Jai Shri Ram.”
“I have told you what I faced,” said Waris. “I don’t know what the police are saying.”
A third student, Mohammed Ali, 17, narrated the same sequence of events, being beaten, abused and crickets bats snatched. “They then asked us to chant Jai Shri Ram and when we refused, they beat us more,” said Ali. “We ran for our lives and then they started pelting stones on us.”
Unnao district Superintendent of Police MK Verma said the police “haven’t found any truth in the allegations [that the students were forced to chant] Jai Shri Ram”. The investigation had concluded, said Verma, and two youth who confessed to attacking the students had been arrested.
‘Find eyewitnesses yourself’
“Based on the versions of eyewitnesses, we can say that no Jai Shri Ram thing (sic) happened,” Verma told FactChecker. He did not reveal the names of those arrested or the eyewitnesses.
Asked about the eyewitnesses, Verma asked this reporter to find them himself.
Asked about the forensic lab where the viral video was sent for investigation, Verma said, “Koi si bhi lab likh deejiye (Write whichever lab you want to).”
Maulana Nisar Ahmad Misbahi, the principal of the madrasa in Unnao, which is 65 km South West of Lucknow, said his students were sure of what had happened. “Our students have not changed their statement,” he said, reacting to the police contention that no religious slogans were involved. “They will stick to the truth. The student are in trauma and they need rest. The police have told us that they are investigating the case and the videos.”
The political angle
Between 2010 and 2018, India reported only eight incidents where citizens were forced to chant Jai Shri Ram. All these incidents were reported after 2014: two in 2016 and three each in 2017 and 2018, according to Hate Crime Watch, a FactChecker database that tracks hate crimes from 2009.
After 2019 general elections, the slogan has gained political overtones.
On June 11, chants of Jai Shri Ram filled the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, when BJP members from Bengal – Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri – took their oath, India Todayreported on June 18. “The slogan has been at the centre of a political slugfest between Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Bharatiya Janata Party,” said the report.
This is the 64th hate crime motivated by religious bias to be recorded in UP – India’s most populous and, by hate crimes, the most violent state – according to our analysis of Hate Crime Watch data.
Hindus, 80% of the population, were targeted in 15.6% – or 10 of 64 – hate crimes motivated by religious bias since 2009 in UP, Hate Crime Watch data shows. Muslims account for 19% of the population that has been targetted in 68.8% – or 44 of 64 – hate crimes. The religious identity of victims in six cases was not known.
Of 64 religious hate crimes in UP over 10 years, 62 cases or 96.9% were recorded after 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre, and 46 cases or 71.9% were recorded after the party won the state assembly election in 2017.
Nationwide, over a decade to 2019, 91.8% of 295 hate crimes motivated by religious bias – claiming 99 lives – were reported after 2014. Hindus, 79.8% of the population, were victims in 14% attacks. Muslims, who form 14% of India’s population, were victims in 59.3% such hate crimes, according to Hate Crime Watch, while Christians who form 2.3% of the population, were victims in 14.2% of cases.
Saurabh Sharma is a reporter and member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
This story first appeared on Fact Checker.